Buffalo recovers from paralyzing winter storm as death toll rises

New York state’s second largest city of Buffalo was ground zero for what the governor has called an “epic, one-in-a-lifetime weather disaster.” Authorities meanwhile began digging out from under 1.2 meters of snow dumped during the deadly Christmas blizzard.

At least 60 people died across eight states, according to a CBS News count and in a Wednesday briefing, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the Erie County Department of Health confirmed the death toll in the county had risen to 34 — the majority of them in Buffalo.

“It is devastating, paralyzing — it has taken 34 of our fellow citizens. I offer my deepest condolences and sympathies to the individuals who’ve lost loved ones [during] this holiday season.” Poloncarz said. “It’s terrible. I understand it. Every time the Christmas season comes along people are going to remember this storm and the death of their loved one.”

On Wednesday, New York State Police cleared abandoned vehicles from snow-covered roads so emergency vehicles and plows could get through the area.

According to Erie County authorities, some of those who died were found frozen in cars, others in snowbanks outside, and others from medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest while shoveling snow.

Officials meanwhile warned that melting snow could result in minor flooding.

Western New York was hardest hit by the Arctic deep freeze and storm front that extended over most of the United States for days as far south as the Mexican border.

Kathy Hochul, New York state’s governor and a Buffalo native, thanked emergency responders and New Yorkers who stepped up to help in the aftermath of the storm.

“The weather events of the past week were some of the worst we’ve ever seen, but together, we showed that New York always stands strong in the face of adversity,” Hochul said in describing the storm on Tuesday.